If we were to stop there, it would logically follow that if believers, out of some innate worth, prove themselves worthy of the gospel, then their actions will result in their ultimate salvation. Is this another version of the worldly mantra “Be a good person, and God will save you”? No. Notice what Paul does. He cleverly inserts a subtle (yet powerful) phrase that completely undercuts that line of reasoning: “and that from God” (v. 28). Again, we’re confronted by another pronoun. What does this second pronoun refer to? It not only points to “salvation” in the same verse but also reaches further back to the whole of their worthy conduct in verses 27–28. This may seem insignificant, but it is vital for understanding this text. Their ultimate salvation and their worthy conduct are “from God.” They are God’s gift of grace (1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:12–13; 1 Thess. 5:23–24). This means that a believer’s salvation is given rather than earned and that a believer’s worth is divinely created rather than naturally cultivated. It is God who enables their steadfast unity in the gospel through adversity, and it is God who ultimately saves. All of it is “from God,” and therefore God rightly deserves all the praise, glory, and honor (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Rev. 4:11).
Sensing the need to provide a reason for this theologically weighty claim, Paul continues in Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” The word “granted” (echaristhē, a cognate of charis, “grace”) once again depicts God as the primary giver in this heavenly city, the One who graces the community with the threefold gift of faith, suffering, and salvation: (1) believing in the gospel grants entrance into the city (v. 29); (2) suffering, coupled with the divinely granted perseverance of the community in verses 27–28, characterizes Christian life within this city (v. 29); and (3) salvation is the end for which the heavenly city was constructed (v. 28). All of this, from start to finish, is brought into being by God’s grace.
Truly, God begins and ends the Christian life (1:6). We do not work—whether in our own effort or even with God’s assistance—to become people worthy to receive salvation. That is how the world thinks. “If I’m good, I’ll get good things.” That is why the gospel of Christ is so unnerving to the world. It powerfully subverts every worldly notion of worth and salvation. Sinners, with no worth of their own, who believe and rest in the gospel of grace become worthy “in Christ.” Sinners are neither worthy (Rom. 3:12; 4:5) nor godly apart from Christ (Phil. 3:10–11, 23). It is only when we receive Christ and all His saving benefits by grace alone through faith alone that we are declared righteous or worthy “in Christ.” And we know that those whom God declares righteous are, subsequently, actually made righteous. But we become citizens of God’s kingdom and gain access to the good things of salvation not because God makes us righteous or worthy but because we have been counted righteous or worthy through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.
My hope is that Paul’s prayer would become our own, as we continue depending on the grace of God to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:11–12).